Op-Ed: Media Professionals Mingle, Don’t Mix Well (Twitter: #UNITY12)

Diversity groups struggle to play nice with others

By Matt Lewis

The deadline has come and passed for the UNITY: Journalists, Inc. Convention. The conference of professional and student journalists printed its last few grafs of this year’s story in Las Vegas, but the fun doesn’t stop there.

This coalition brings together four groups (now five): the Asian American, Native American, Black, Hispanic and Gay/Lesbian minority trade organizations every four years. Unification of these four happens in near-lock step with the Summer Olympic Games.

The results of the “Discrimination Games” (@ UNITY) are still out, however. What am I talking about you ask… read on to find out.

Two strong contenders for Gold are the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the new kids on the block – the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). They decided to promote their own agendas ahead of a unified message, which was highlighted this weekend during the UNITY conference.

The oddest thing of all, UNITY was held in a place where all is forgiven and anyone is welcome, regardless of political or religious affiliation, sexual orientation, race or any other idiosyncratic trait. Remember the cliché? – “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Well not anymore – with Twitter, Facebook and The New York Times all in your midst.

The Times did a story on Friday about how NABJ backed out of the UNITY conference this year due to the addition of NLGBJA. The reason, representatives stated, was one of finances. One of the founding members of UNITY, NABJ leadership implied that the gay, lesbian and transgender association was given too much of the collective income from the conference. The host city/organization gets the lion’s share of the profits from the event, with the remainder being divvied up amongst the other organizations.

The financial balancing act is definitely a tightrope that UNITY may have wrapped around their neck. The convergence and divergence of political internal fighting could lead the pairing to turn purple and potentially dissolve. For now though, the chocking alliance between these organizations is kicking – trying to spur this petty behavior.

We should come together as we did after Sept. 11, 2001. Divided we stand, the possibility of being united appears to be falling.

My view – I am a firm ally of both factions individually and of UNITY as consortium. The deep fissures caused by financial and political differences are disheartening to watch.

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Steven Thrasher of The Village Voice interviewed Gregory Lee, Jr., president of NABJ.

     CNN Worldwide Managing Editor Mark Whitaker called out NABJ’s split from UNITY. Several members of NABJ, including its president, attended UNITY. The absence of the NABJ organization however was hard to ignore. According to NABJ representatives, the organization accounted for 52 percent of attendees to UNITY 2008.

Thrasher writes: “For many years, multiple groups of minority journalists (NABJ, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Native American Journalists Association) would meet every four years in what became the largest “Journalists of Color” convention in the world (and the largest gathering of journalists, period, in the United States)… Meanwhile, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association joined UNITY a few months. The formal name “UNITY Journalists of Color” was changed to simply “UNITY Journalists.” 

     Listen to a Voice interview with NABJ President Gregory Lee

The opening panel at UNITY had representatives from each organization. Heated words from sports columnist LZ Granderson of ESPN and CNN.com were directed at NABJ. Granderson was, like Trasher, was in an interesting position at UNITY 2012. Being black and gay, they are affiliated with both NABJ and NLGJA.

NABJ president Lee, Jr. confronted Granderson and others, accusing them of falsely framing the NABJ split. Lee heatedly said it had nothing to do with NLGJA and that NABJ left UNITY over “governance and money.” Lee, Jr. asserted that NABJ was the first group in UNITY to form an LGBT task force. One of the thorns in NABJ’s side was the “of color” taken from the UNITY name in just a matter of months – after NLGJA joined UNITY.


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